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Are You Exercising Your "Collective Responsibility" for Journalism, Comrade?

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Retired newspaper man Leonard Downie, who never in his life worked for any other professional news organization besides the Washington Post, has collaborated with career journalism academic Michael Schudson on a big thumb-sucker entitled "The Reconstruction of American Journalism," [pdf] calling for, among other questionable things, government-subsidized newsrooms. They have teased their study in a WashPost piece today. Here's how it begins:

His friends call him Len

News reporting that holds accountable those with power and influence has been a vital part of American democratic life, especially in places with daily newspapers profitable enough, and with owners public-spirited enough, to maintain substantial reporting staffs. That journalism is now at risk, along with the advertising-supported economic foundations of newspapers.

American society must now take some collective responsibility for supporting news reporting—as society has, at much greater expense, for public education, health care, scientific advancement and cultural preservation, through varying combinations of philanthropy, subsidy and government policy.

As I wrote seven years ago about Downie's execrable book The News About the News, this could have been more honestly labeled "Why Aren't You As Good As We Are?" Listening to Downie offer prescriptions for having the government fix journalism is like listening to a career Goldman Sachs executive issue a 10-point plan on how the government should save the financial system. The perspective is overwhelmingly warped, leading to conclusions like this:

Has written lots about advertising

This emerging journalistic ecosystem, in which the gathering and distribution of news is becoming much more widely dispersed, holds great potential. But it is still quite fragile. Accountability journalism in particular requires significant reporting resources with strong professional leadership and reliable financial support, which the marketplace can no longer be expected to sufficiently supply.

This reminds me of my recent Bloggingheads discussion with fellow woe-is-media stalwart Alex S. Jones (not the UFO New World Order guy). After Jones had gone on about how the "iron core" of news is shrinking, thereby imperiling our democracy, I pointed out that in a blog post I had written just that morning about a flurry of last-minute laws signed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the links I found (thanks to Google News) included MTV.com, a boating newsletter, and a hip-hop website. Instead of even entertaining the notion that the "iron core" had been increased on net by widespread sources, Jones was horrified. Why, how did I know that HipHopPress.com was a reliable source! Shame on the mainstream media for not covering each and every law!

At some point, dialogue with these people isn't actually possible. Big-city newspapers are shrinking their staffs, therefore democracy is under threat, full stop. All of which would be of marginal interest, if it weren't for the fact that Dead Tree Central is cooking up a policy smorgasbord that could and probably will eventually affect that vast majority of you who don't read journalism navel-gazing books. To wit:

—Public radio and television should be substantially reoriented, through action by and reform of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to provide significant local news reporting in every community served by public stations— reporting that too few of them do now. […]

—A national Fund for Local News should be created with fees the Federal Communications Commission collects from or could impose on telecom users, broadcast licensees or Internet service providers. Grants should be made competitively by independent state Local News Fund Councils to local news organizations for innovations in local news reporting and ways to support it.

There is apparently some optimism in the report about various new journalistic initiatives bubbling up, and good for them, I suppose. But at this point that's like noticing in 1979 that there might be reasons for optimism that race relations have improved since 1963.

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  1. “Public radio and television should be substantially reoriented, through action by and reform of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to provide significant local news reporting in every community served by public stations”

    Oh, hell no. My life has been greatly improved by WETA in the DC area dropping its news and playing only classical music. Now I only have to hear Karl Kassel whistle through his dentures 3 minutes an hour, and can listen to a music that is otherwise unavailable in the radio around here. This has actually gotten me to start donating to public radio. The last thing the airwaves need, around here anyway, is more blowhards giving me their opinions.

    1. This has actually gotten me to start donating to public radio.

      You do realize that they probably play so much music and have so little “content” because they don’t have the funds to support a larger staff, right?

      1. My kid sister used to be in charge of one of the begging departments for the local public radio stations.

        Her team raised more than $200K over their goal. At the end of the year her boss let several of her staff go because times were tough and their wasn’t enough money.

        Her boss told her that she was just going to have to pick up the slack and do the work of the missing underlings herself (and for no extra $ either).

        That was enough for my sister and I am so proud that she told them to take the proverbial flying leap.

        The best thing now is that she is free to tell us about the financial mismanagement at her old station. The stories are all horrible.

  2. JFC Matt! Those peers of yours are off the rails!

    — A national Fund for Local News should be created with fees the Federal Communications Commission collects from or could impose on telecom users, broadcast licensees or Internet service providers. Grants should be made competitively by independent state Local News Fund Councils to local news organizations for innovations in local news reporting and ways to support it.

    Which failed version of Communism was that straight from? He wants to let local fifedoms ladel out federal money to the people who will write about them the nicest and the most.

    1. He wants to let local fifedoms ladel out federal money to the people who will write about them the nicest and the most.

      You ain’t just whistling Dixie!

    2. He said the LNFCs would be independent. So we wouldn’t have to worry about that.

  3. “News reporting that holds accountable those with power and influence…”

    LOL!! Let me know when that starts happening…

    1. Apparently, it will start happening once those with power and influence start paying for news reporting. What could possibly go wrong?

      1. oh, “accountable” as in hit them up for $.

  4. I was just told (by an Indian consultant) that all data analysis in the US will be outsourced to India in the next 5 years, simply because they have SAS programmrs for 50K a year instead of the 75K per year here.

    From my limited understanding, reporters are also paid around 75K per year. Do they teach journalism in Indian schools? Outsource!!

    1. Do they teach journalism in Indian schools?

      Yes they do, but this is the kind of stuff they write. Be careful what you wish for…

      1. I love you work on the Empirical Crescent, B.S. Johnson.

        Also the Colossus of Ankh-Morpork, the Hanging Gardens of Ankh and the Quirm Memorial.

        1. Thats Bloody Stupid “It Might Look A Bit Messy Now But Just You Come Back In Five Hundred Years’ Time” Johnson, thankyouverymuch.

  5. i wonder if they want the government to help their failing businesses to prevent Rupert Murdoch from taking over first.

  6. Why, how did I know that HipHopPress.com was a reliable source! Shame on the mainstream media for not covering each and every law!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jTWY14eyMFg

  7. “News reporting that holds accountable those with power and influence has been a vital part of American democratic life, especially in places with daily newspapers profitable enough, and with owners public-spirited enough, to maintain substantial reporting staffs.”

    Well then why doesn’t the WAPO with its large staff go out and hold some powerful people accountable. I have a few story ideas,

    How about going around to community organizing offices and see if they will support you in setting up a prostitution ring?

    How about looking into the pasts of powerful people in the whitehouse and see if any of them are 9-11 Truthers or Mao worshipers?

    How about looking into the connection between certain Senators and a failed sub prime mortgage company including those Senators’ “cottages” in Ireland?

    The same people who will do anything not to cover the embarassments or hold accountable those people in power right now, whine that they need our tax money so that they can continue to “hold the powerful accountable”. These people are beyond satire.

    1. I think those topics are well covered by what is obviously your preferred source of ‘news,’ or whatever the hell it is FOX does all day.

      1. Tony,

        Didn’t you get the memo? According to the Obamasiah Foxnews is not a news organization. You had best be careful, or they will throw you out of the cult.

  8. This emerging journalistic ecosystem, …

    Ecosystem? I stopped taking the allegedly educated moron seriously right there.

  9. Keep it up Downie. I keep inching closer to just canceling my sub, and you being a overly self-important leech-in-training one more reason to ditch your sorry enterprise.

    Oh, and we all liked your brother Morton better than you.

  10. For profit journalism is dying. Yet, Rupert Murdoch seems to get richer every day. How is that?

    1. Christ, John. Seriously: I have destroyed your “liberal bias is killing journalism” assertion in nearly every thread where you’ve posted it. I’ve even gotten you to (haltingly) agree that I’m right.

      And yet you pop right back up with it every time a news-media topic gets posted here. It’s like playing whack-a-mole.

      Liberal bias may be a problem. But it is NOT THE REASON THAT JOURNALISM IS STRUGGLING FINANCIALLY IN 2009. Good grief.

      1. I guess that is why Murdoch is making billions running Fox News. You might want to bother explaining how that is before you shoot your mouth off. The NYT is dying, dog shows on the Animal Planet get better ratings than CNN and MSNOBAMA. Meanhile Fox News is making millions. But liberal bias is not killing the media.

        1. Well, for starters: Fox News Channel isn’t a newspaper.

          Look, like you, I’m more conservative than most of our fellow Hit & Runners around here. I just think it’s lunacy to sit here, on the Internet, in 2009, looking back at a decade where digital technology has devastated everything from the music industry to the fax business, and say that the abrupt decline of newspapers’ fortunes is because of “liberal bias.”

          You’re sitting here, at this very moment, in the middle of the thing that has killed newspapers’ fortunes. It’s not any more complicated than that. There’s not some exotic reason.

          “Liberal bias” didn’t emerge in the ’00s. And it’s not the thing that has killed newspapers in the ’00s.

          1. “Liberal bias” didn’t emerge in the ’00s.”

            True it didn’t. But, newspapers can still do things bloggers can’t. They can cover news in really detailed ways. People will pay for that. But, you have to be willing to actually cover the news. Yes, newspapers are never going to make the money they made in past years. But, completely alienating 1/2 of thier customer base pretty much ended any hope of profitability.

            1. Newspapers haven’t lost readership. A decline in reader numbers is not the cause of their financial woes.

              1. Huh? What is then?

                1. “Huh? What is then?”

                  Online advertising generates merely a fraction of the revenues generated by its equivalent in print.

                  Newspapers’ primary revenue source has been demolished by the web.

                  That’s all. There’s nothing any more intricate about it. People have not quit consuming news; people’s eyeballs have simply become worth less. And the worth of those eyeballs is what ultimately determines a newspaper’s financial state.

                  1. (And yes, obviously, the loss of classified ads, as PapayaSF notes below.)

          2. “I just think it’s lunacy to sit here, on the Internet, in 2009, looking back at a decade where digital technology has devastated…the fax business”

            Thank G-d for digital technology.

          3. Music Industry?

            digital technology has improved, not devastated, the music industry.

            And I would argue ditto for journalism.
            Doc Saturday, for example, is much better college football coverage than any newspaper has ever given. Plus he has live blogs during games, lets see a newspaper do that.

            1. I think he’s assuming the music industry is equivalent to RIAA….

      2. Obviously the web is a huge part of it, and with Craiglist killing the classified ad business. But it’s hard not to notice that daily papers and the network news have drifted left over the last 30-40 years, and are now noticeably to the left of their average reader/viewer. And yet the “right-wing” national media, like Fox News and the WSJ, is doing fine….

        1. The Wall Street Journal has a conservative op-ed page. Its news coverage is produced by the same left-leaning journalists who do it everywhere else.

          But that’s beside the point anyway: The WSJ is a specialty publication, producing daily financial news for a distinct, upscale market. It is successful in the way that ESPN is successful.

          1. Because of its OPED section most people think of the WSJ as “conservative” despite the liberal slant to its news. The WSJ fills a market need, financial news, and can sell to people outside of Manhattan and Berkley. Contrast that with the NYT, which fills less and less of a need and appeals only to a certain section of the public.

            Sadly, the NYT, had Pinch or Thumb or whatever the hell his name not raped it, could have filled the niche of the “national paper of record” and still made money. But instead, it sold out to its most liberal readers and killed itself.

            1. Remember after the Van Jones debacle that the New York Times and other liberal media outlets ignored, oops, I mean “missed”, how they said they were monitor Fox News Channel from now so that they would no longer “miss” these kinds of stories?

              Well, it’s three or four days later and I still have yet to see or read a word in any of these “mainstream” outlets about the crackpot Anita Dunn’s bizarre views about Mao Tse Tung.

              Since they’re now monitoring Glenn Beck and all the other Fox guys, what the heck is their bullcrap excuse going to be this time?

            2. The NYT has good crosswords. that’s something they can sell even in flyover country.

        2. I may be arguing semantics here, but Craigslist hasnt killed the classfied ads business, it has expanded it.

          Killed it FOR THE NEWSPAPERS, but as a consumer, I have more classified ads choices now, not less.

  11. How about going around to community organizing offices and see if they will support you in setting up a prostitution ring?

    How about looking into the pasts of powerful people in the whitehouse and see if any of them are 9-11 Truthers or Mao worshipers?

    How about looking into the connection between certain Senators and a failed sub prime mortgage company including those Senators’ “cottages” in Ireland?

    And then they can post their findings on YouTube.

    (Sorry. Like Warty when Steve Smith makes a move, i couldn’t resist.)

  12. …with career journalism academic Michael Schudson.

    By use of the phrase “career journalism academic” I took it to mean the man has never worked in an actual newsroom or for any kind of news organization. And sure enough, when I checked the link to the Wikipedia artcle I found that he is a sociologist working in the field of journalism rather than a journalist.

  13. I enjoyed the article. I do have one question about this:

    “This reminds me of my recent Bloggingheads discussion with fellow woe-is-media stalwart Alex S. Jones (not the UFO guy). ”

    Alex Jones is not now, nor has he ever been, the “UFO” guy…he could accurately be called the “Bilderberg” or “CFR” or “911 truther” or even the “conspiracy theorist guy”, but he never talks about UFO’s. Really he doesn’t. When you are writing a article talking about what a bunch of dickweeds the guys at the Washington Post are at least try to be accurate with your pejoratives.

      1. WOW. Awesome, this pleases me. The Washington Post would never correct their snark this quickly(if ever). Thank you, seriously.

  14. A MSM apologist had the same type article in the “Atlantic” this month. What was ironic was that the very next article described how “Al Jeezira” reported overseas news much, much more extensively. Do they have an ideology? Yup. So does CNN – but you can’t bitch about how important your “accountability” is, WHEN YOU DON’T EVEN COVER MOST REAL NEWS. I conceed that no one can beat CNN at live coverage of empty baloons.

  15. I think newspapres should be taxed to help provide internet connections to all.

    1. Thread win. 🙂

  16. “thumb-sucker”. I love that! I’m going to have to start using that term.

  17. One legitimate thing that could be done to promote more local news coverage, that would be inclusive of new Internet media models, would be to publish videos of local board and council meetings and, perhaps, transcripts — with public domain rights so that they can be edited and indexed.

  18. I got your Collective Responsibility right here, Leonard Downie:

    They Want to Believe: Media Outlets Fall for Climate Hoax

    A press release from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce trumpeting its sudden and surprising flip from opposing to backing climate legislation was too good to check for CNBC and Reuters today…

    In a dramatic shift, the Chamber of Commerce announced Monday that it is throwing its support behind climate change legislation making its way through the U.S. Senate.

    Only it didn’t.

    An email press release announcing the change is a hoax, say Chamber officials.

    Several media organizations fell for it.

    A CNBC anchor interrupted herself mid-sentence Monday morning to announce that the network had “breaking news,” then cut away to reporter Hampton Pearson, who read from the fake press release.

    Pearson quickly followed up with a second report saying the “so-called bulletin” was an “absolute hoax.” Smelling a rat, CNBC’s Larry Kudlow demanded to know whether the White House had been involved.

    In a story posted Monday morning, Reuters declared: “The Chamber of Commerce said on Monday it will no longer opposes climate change legislation, but wants the bill to include a carbon tax.”

    Reuters updated the story to acknowledge the hoax, but it was too late: The Washington Post and the New York Times had already posted the fake story on their Web sites.

    http://www.politico.com/news/s…..8456.html#

  19. I die inside a little more each time I visit that site SF.

    1. It’s hilarious. It’s Feministing little sister who cut off all her long blonde hair and starting wearing army surplus after she didn’t get on the cheerleading team. She’ll move on to something else in a little while.

      1. That site is a train wreck. It is why internet trolling is really impossible these days. How do you charactature that?

      2. I always found Jezebel to be far less horrifying than Feministing. In fact I’d characterize Jezebel as the long blonde cheerleader who read a feminist pamphlet and Feministing as the jackbooted manhater.

        1. So Jezebel would still give the random drunken hummer, is that what you’re saying?

          Cause that’s how I’m reading it (Jezebel is blocked at work, and I refuse to have that on my personal browser history next to the Japanese ass gaping).

  20. Come on, people! Our journalists need federal funding! How else are we going to get to-the-minute updates on such scintillating stories as:

    -balloon flies over Colorado
    -Freaky pop star dies, used to be famous
    -Obama gives new speech, says nothing substantial
    -Michelle Obama buys some vegetables

    Clearly this is a pressing national interest deserving of our tax dollars.

    1. Oh, I forgot one other important story:

      -Rush Limbaugh said these things he really didn’t say but we’re going to report them anyway

      Now that’s some high-caliber journalism there!

      1. You can go back to the porch.

  21. “I guess that is why Murdoch is making billions running Fox News. You might want to bother explaining how that is before you shoot your mouth off. The NYT is dying, dog shows on the Animal Planet get better ratings than CNN and MSNOBAMA. Meanhile Fox News is making millions. But liberal bias is not killing the media.”

    I imagine this would be the result of the younger liberal population being more web savey and using the internet for news, while the older conservative population gives fox news good ratings. Also liberals who do watch tv news, have several choices, while fox is the only conservative news station.

    1. Enyap, you must not know many older folks; many of them practically live on-line. My wife spent an entertaining afternoon at a fundraiser recently watching the local mah jongg club compare apps on their I-Phones.

  22. caption: “I crap these out of my ass every day. What have YOU done to earn the right to criticize what we do?”

  23. “American society must now take some collective responsibility for supporting news reporting…”

    Hey guess what douchebag? The American democratic “society” you claim to care so much about has already rejected such nonsense. Why the fuck do you think newspapers are failing?

    “I imagine this would be the result of the younger liberal population being more web savey [sic] and using the internet for news, while the older conservative population gives fox news good ratings.”

    Give me a fucking break. Fox News does not dominate in the ratings because a bunch of old farts can’t figure out how to use a fucking computer. Maybe you should look at the ratings demographics.

  24. I’m thinking this piece of Downey’s deserves its own link on Wiki’s “Special Pleading” page. Sorry, Lenny, but your paper needs to go where GM, Bear Stearns and Merrill should have gone.

  25. Enyap, you must not know many older folks; many of them practically live on-line.

    Many of them. But many, many others haven’t a clue about online.

  26. If this were 1995, Enyap would have a point about oldsters not getting news online.

    Old people tend to be disadvantaged when a new technology is in its early, non-user-friendly, non-robust stages of development. That ain’t the internet anymore.

  27. I wonder how much effect on newspapers environmentalism has had…

    1. OR: I wonder how much impact envrionmentalism has had on the newspaper industry…

      (sorry for the sloppy grammar)

    2. It has certainly exposed their scientific illiteracy. Beyond that, I couldn’t say.

  28. News reporting that holds accountable those with power and influence has been a vital part of American democratic life, especially in places with daily newspapers profitable enough, and with owners public-spirited enough, to maintain substantial reporting staffs. That journalism is now at risk…

    American society must now take some collective responsibility for supporting news reporting — … through varying combinations of philanthropy, subsidy and government policy.

    Um, this moron doesn’t see the conflict between government funding the newspapers, and newspapers holding government accountable?

    1. Apparently not. It is laughable how someone could think that a newsroom funded by the government can be in any sense independent from said government. This kind of aid would not save journalism, it would turn it into a pathetic joke, at best a living museum piece of what mid-twentyith century media was like.

    2. Silly Hazel, he’s a progressive.

      That means “those with power and influence” are universally wealthy private sector actors. The government is merely a morally neutral mechanism which may be unduly influenced by such corrupt persons.

  29. WaPo wants all government, all the time, in every orifice.

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